Access Lift Project Announced

Earlier this year, St. Mary’s 35-year-old platform lift finally failed. The loss of the lift has made access to our undercroft level fellowship rooms and restrooms difficult, dangerous or impossible for many members of our community. Because the lift is so old, and because we installed that lift before the Americans with Disabilities Act codes, it cannot be repaired.

The Vestry explored alternatives to replacing the lift, but it became apparent that a lift was the only practical solution to maintaining full access for all to the undercroft. After months of prayerful deliberation, the Vestry has determined that we must replace the lift to respect the dignity and full inclusion of all members and guests of St. Mary’s.

The estimate we received to install a new platform lift is $39,727, which was competitive with other vendors. We currently have $21,500 available for the Access Lift Project. We have $10,000 available in the Building Fund and $7000 in grants from the Episcopal Church in Minnesota plus a $1000 gift from Bishop Craig Loya. We have also received commitments for another $3500 from two parishioners.

With more than half the funds needed already on hand, we are proceeding with the Access Lift Project. We are relying on the generosity of the members and friends of St. Mary’s to help us complete this major capital improvement to our beloved church.

Won’t you make a gift to ensure that all persons are fully included in every aspect of the prayer life and fellowship of our faith community?

You can make a one-time gift by check or by selecting the “Building Fund (Access Lift Project)” option at our online giving site, or you can make monthly contributions to the project over a period of time.

Your gift will make sure St. Mary’s remains “a house of prayer for all people.”

Isaiah 56:7

Thank you!

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Gardens of the Heart

Gardens are important to our understanding of God and our experience of Christian faith. As you enjoy the created beauty of the world, take a moment to reflect on our relationships with the whole of creation. Below are some reflections on those relationships by others.

Psalm 1

Blessed are the man and the woman
who have grown beyond their greed
and have put an end to their hatred
and no longer nourish illusions.
But they delight in the way things are
and keep their hearts open, day and night.
They are like trees planted near flowing rivers,
which bear fruit when they are ready.
Their leaves will not fall or wither.
Everything they do will succeed.

Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Gardens have been much on my heart and in my mind of late.  Perhaps this is because of the vibrancy of the colors of the late summer flowers; perhaps because of the lushness of the fruits and vegetables of the summer harvest.  Whatever the reason, I know that gardens are important to our understanding of God and our experience of Christian faith.  Human existence begins in a garden.  Jesus prayed in a garden the night before his crucifixion.  The empty tomb of the Resurrection was in a garden.

Like a garden, our souls need tending and nurturing.  Prayer, meditation, the Sacraments and the word of God in Scripture all nourish our souls.  We are created beings who are more closely linked with creation than we often realize.

We are fortunate at St. Mary’s to be in the midst of magnificent gardens and amazing natural beauty.  The historic Afton Town Square Park, Carpenter Nature Center, Afton State Park, St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park and even our own Memorial Garden offer beautiful trees, flowers and landscaping to reconnect us to God and creation.  And I know that many of you have attractive yards and gardens at your own homes.

Take some time this summer to “stop and smell the roses.”  Explore the gardens and landscapes of the St. Croix Valley, or the natural beauty of the state and regional park system.  Turn off the air conditioner and open the windows of your home or automobile to let in the sounds and smells of creation.  Tend your soul so it too may grow and flourish in the love of God and the glory of God’s creation.  Store up the energy of the sun for the fallow season of winter that is all too close at hand.

As you enjoy the created beauty of the world, take a moment to reflect on our relationships with the whole of creation.  Below are some reflections on those relationships by others.  Perhaps you will be able to add your own experience of nature to the list.  Enjoy, and God bless you.


“The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden.”

— Thomas Moore

“There is a little plant called reverence in the corner of my soul’s garden, which I love to have watered once a week.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Grant me the ability to be alone,
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

“I thank You God for this most amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

— e.e. cummings

The Holy Trinity: Unity in Diversity

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya

To confess God as Trinity reminds us that the heart of the universe is a relationship, a loving unity in the midst of diversity. As I’ve said many times, the Trinity reminds us that God’s essence is unity without uniformity and difference without division. That’s an amazing thing to claim about the nature of reality.

The wild diversity of humanity, and indeed the whole creation, is part of how we bear the image of God. To confess God as Trinity means that we can know and experience something closer to God’s very heart when we are forming kinship across lines of difference, when we are loving one another across all our diversity without the need to resolve or eliminate how we are different. We are called to build Beloved Community not because it is a nice thing to do, but because it is how we draw nearer to God.

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya, X Bishop of Minnesota

Is there any health risk in drinking from the Common Cup at Holy Communion?

The CDC has found no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup.

The CDC has found no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup. The consensus of the CDC is that a theoretic risk of transmitting infectious diseases by using a common communion cup exists, but that the risk is so small that it is undetectable—you are far more likely to catch something by shaking someone’s hand than by drinking from the common cup.

 Read more…

Remembering My Friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Fr. Scott Monson with “The Arch” – 2002

I have many fond memories of serving as Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s personal assistant in 2002 when he was in residence at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. Sure, it was fun to meet and work with many world leaders and international journalists, but those experiences did not reveal the depth of Father’s intense and abiding faith in God that I came to cherish.

The most precious moments came during our daily celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, often with just the two of us present. We shared an intimate, holy connection with each other and with the Divine. Father spoke often of the “messy relationship” between the humanity and divinity of Christ: We are always trying to pull Jesus down into the mud even as he is lifting us up toward the glories of heaven. Together we prayed for an end to endemic disease, selfish violence and loveless cruelty. And we prayed that Christ would lift us up along with the poor and hungry and lonely and forgotten—all of us so profoundly in need of God’s grace and mercy.

It is fitting that Father should leave this temporal realm as we celebrate God’s most wonderful gift of the Word made flesh—eternal Love Incarnate. Perhaps that “messy relationship” is what binds him and us so closely to the heart of God.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Desmond. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. May the angels rise to greet him and dance with him in joyful bliss. Amen.

Jesus does not prefer political parties; Jesus does choose sides


Recently, we were appalled to learn that the former chair of the Hastings school board and her family were forced to move to another city following vicious social media attacks--attacks originated by adults--against one of her children. The attacks were launched in an attempt to unseat the mother from the school board.

When Bishop Craig Loya learned of this story, he was moved to respond with a powerful and compassionate op-ed letter to the Hastings Star Gazette. We commend his letter to you as a witness to the power of Christ's unremitting love in the face of unwarranted abuse and cruelty against one of God's beloved children.
Opinion letter published December 10, 2021 in the Hastings Star Gazette

I was saddened to hear recently from the Episcopal congregations in your community, St. Luke’s on Vermillion Street and St. Mary’s in Afton, that Hastings has recently become the latest flashpoint in the painful and highly charged division that characterizes so much of our public life these days.

I was heartbroken to learn that at the center of the controversy was a child and that child’s treatment at the hands of adults in the community.

I have the honor of serving as the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. In that role I am called, first and foremost, to follow and emulate the One who came not to be served but to serve; to, with God’s help, reflect and embody the love of Jesus in a world that is starving for it.

I know that many in our country believe, with good reason, that those who call themselves Christian are aligned first and foremost with the powerful, with white nationalism, with anti-democratic movements in our midst, with intolerance, and with violence.

The Episcopal Church has its own sinful history of perpetuating oppression. However, as a follower of Jesus, my allegiance is always to those whom Jesus came to love and to serve. Make no mistake: while Jesus does not prefer political parties, Jesus does choose sides.

The politics of Jesus are about embracing the poor, loving our enemies, feeding the hungry, lifting up the oppressed, reforming the unjust structures in society, seeking good for the other instead of insisting on our own way, disregarding the boundaries of social exclusion, calling out our own self-interested hypocrisy and that of our religious and civic leaders, making room at the center for those who have been pushed to the margins. Those are the things that Jesus actually did. These are the marks of what it means to be his followers in the world.

The Episcopal way of following Jesus is unequivocal in affirming that all of God’s children, including our trans siblings and including those with whom we ardently disagree, are beloved, accepted, worthy of dignity and welcome to fully participate in the life of the church.

We as a people are better when our churches, and all our public spaces, both affirm and reflect the wonderful diversity of humanity, which together more fully reflects the very image of God.

The Rt. Rev. Craig W. Loya, X Bishop, Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Watching, Waiting, and Praying

On the Second of Advent, the Song of Zechariah is appointed as a canticle in place of a regular Psalm. These words in Luke 1 are the first the ancient priest says after being struck mute because he doubted the angel’s announcement that his wife Elizabeth would conceive a child.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are minor players in the story of scripture, and yet I feel intensely drawn to them, especially in this season in the church and the world. They are devout, of the priestly order, dutifully keeping and tending to the regular rounds of temple worship year after year, eagerly hoping to see God do a new and decisive thing to deliver them from the surrounding darkness. Zechariah and Elizabeth sit on the threshold between what has been and what will be. They play their role simply by being faithful in keeping the liturgies and silently waiting.

That’s a good way of understanding where we are, too. For the better part of a year, we’ve been stuck at the threshold of a pandemic in its late stages, but so clearly not over. We are worn down, and while not quite mute, it’s hard to come up with more words to be a balm to us and others. I don’t know about you, but I want to have it figured out. I want the plan, I want the words to fill my own soul and even more I want the words, the plan, or the answers, to be able to strengthen and sustain you, too.

Instead, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we have no choice but to let go, wait silently, and keep taking the next step, saying the next prayer, dutifully tending the temple of Christ’s body the church in whatever ways we can.

We pray the words of Zechariah day by day as part of the morning office as a way of rooting ourselves in God’s promise, and remembering God’s power to save. We pray this canticle this Sunday, and every day, to remember that no matter how dark and hard things can be, “in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Watching, waiting, and praying for the dawn with each one of you,

The Right Reverend Craig Loya, X Bishop, Episcopal Church in Minnesota

December 2021

Empty Pews Are an American Public Health Crisis

Something about the communal religious experience seems to matter. Something powerful takes place there, something that enhances health and well-being; and it is something very different than what comes from solitary spirituality.

Americans are rapidly giving up on church. Our minds and bodies will pay the price.

Something about the communal religious experience seems to matter. Something powerful takes place there, something that enhances health and well-being; and it is something very different than what comes from solitary spirituality.

Read the article in Christianity Today

Don’t count out small, rural churches

Studies show small, rural churches can still thrive if they focus on the needs of their community.

• Small, rural churches can still thrive if they focus on the needs of their community.

 • Fixation on youth, contributions and attendance can be counterproductive.

 • Rural churches have a better chance if they work from a sense of possibility rather than fear.

Read more…

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